EPA, Subject to Change

by Isa Molewijk

There has been a lot of controversy around the appointment of Scott Pruitt as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency. The walking contradiction of an anti-environmentalist in charge of the EPA has been subject to both outrage and applause all over the world. Now Pruitt is under fire for several scandals about his spending habits, like the deal to rent a Capitol Hill condominium linked to a gas industry lobbyist. Headlines like ‘White house considered firing Scott Pruitt’ and ‘Scott Pruitt’s bizarre condo scandal and mounting ethics questions’ scatter the news. Even republicans openly question Pruitt’s legitimacy. Furthermore, it strikes a more fundamental question about the existence of the EPA and the overall United States political system. How could an anti-environmentalist become chief of the EPA in the first place? And who will stand for the environment in times of Global Warming?

In the Netherlands there was a similar case of a ‘walking contradiction’ when anti-immigration-politician Rita Verdonk was appointed minister of Integration and Immigration.[1] With an increasing amount of refugees in Europe from war-torn countries, Verdonk sought to sharpen immigration laws and regulations. During her term (2003-2007) her directness and dehumanizing policies earned her the nickname ‘Iron Rita’. Fortunately, she did not get all policies through. Mainly because of the existence of the Dutch Council for Refugees, a Non-Governmental Organization (although partially government funded) which is leading in expertise and lobbies immigration policies to the House of Representatives.[2] They work close together with the government and when the government does not take their advice they use the media to demand consideration. In every branch of government there is a non-governmental agency that needs to be reckoned with. Their non-governmental nature causes them to solely have their purpose at mind, not worrying about re-election or presidential appointments. In the case of environmental policy, the Dutch government sets the frameworks, but the law is mostly shaped by non-governmental agency Stichting Natuur & Milieu (Nature and Environment).[3]

 

The Trump Administration and appointment of Scott Pruitt seemed to perish all hope for environmental protection in the U.S. However, it was an executive order from president Nixon that created the EPA in the first place. Maybe Scott Pruitt should not be on fire for non-surprising unethical behavior, but the entire political system that got him to be chief in the first place. Maybe the EPA should have a less governmental nature and there should be more non-governmental third party organizations to be reckoned with. It is time to be creative and demand change in a fundamental anti-environmental system. After all, environmental protection should not be linked to being a republican or democrat: we all breath the same air and we will all suffer the consequences of human-fueled global warming.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/scott-pruitt-epa-condo-rental_us_5ac25b2ee4b04646b644ffb1

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rita_Verdonk

[2] https://www.vluchtelingenwerk.nl/english

[3] https://www.natuurenmilieu.nl/english/

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Cars, California and Federalism

by Catherine Long

A common theme among the blog posts we have discussed throughout the semester has been President Trump’s dedication to reversing most Obama-era policies in relation to the environment. This article continues this theme, however there is also an added element of federalism at work. Through the 1970 Clean Air Act, the EPA has worked to reduce the emissions from cars by setting stricter fuel economy standards. Under President Obama, great strides were taken to ensure this would be the case until 2025, almost ten years after his departure. The 1970 Clean Air Act also allowed for waivers to be given to states who wanted to set their own fuel economy standards. California has participated in this system and wishes to set stricter fuel economy standards in order to encourage growth in the electric car sector. However, upon taking office, President Trump assured the automobile industry that he along with the head of the EPA Scott Pruitt would review the standards set by the EPA under President Obama and that he would set the standards at a level that would allow cars to be made in America again. Appealing to the growth of the economy and an increase in American manufacturing has been a tactic President Trump has used since his Presidential campaign. However, California plans to move ahead with its stricter standards. This creates a dilemma because car manufacturers have to decide whether to follow California’s standards in order for their cars to be bought in that state or follow the much lower national standards and potentially lose buyers in California. In order to solve this dilemma, California has tried to negotiate with the Trump administration by stating that they will lower their standards if Trump prolongs the Obama-era standards until 2030. This article offers an interesting insight into how states are attempting to influence environmental policy under a President who doesn’t subscribe to environmentally friendly policy.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/03/13/epa-administrator-pruitt-says-california-is-not-the-arbiter-of-the-nations-emission-standards/?utm_term=.e260c6f1af6d

California’s Cap and Trade Program

by Stephanie Laurancy

This article discusses California’s efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions particularly through discussing the extension of the cap-and-trade program. Republican assemblyman Matias Davis, was one of eight republican state legislators to support the cap and trade extension which would add a decade extending it to 2030. Cap-and-trade limits (puts a “cap” on) companies thus minimizing the number of greenhouses gasses they emit. Should the companies exceed the limit, they may be penalized and penalties may become more strict overtime. The trade portion comes in as a market where companies can buy or sell allowances that permit them to emit only a certain amount of emissions. Although the “cap” portion of cap and trade may be very strict, the trade part provides a great incentive for companies to save money by reducing emissions. Republicans in the state typically do not support the cap-and-trade as it has been describing as “government overreach”. Cap-and-trade has helped with the reduction of carbon emissions; however, the program still faces strong opposition.

The idea of the program being considered to be “government overreach” raises the point that we discussed in class: Should the government get involved in environmental policy?

I would love to hear your opinions on the article.

WV State Rep Candidate Gets in Trouble for Outing Oil and Gas Contributions to Legislators

by Lauren Geitz

Lissa Lucas (D) is running for a statehouse seat in District 7 of West Virginia. This first-time candidate was relativity unknown and had a modest long-term campaign goal of raising $1,500 to purchase yard signs. However, this all changed when she attended a West Virginia House Judiciary Committee in February.

Lissa Lucas got into politics because her grandfather left her his farm with a small gas well located on it. Recently more state politicians in WV have been accepting money from energy companies in exchange for passing legislation that gives energy companies authority over landowners property. Lissa wanted to bring awareness to this issue within her state by running for office and attending the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee meeting. This meeting was a hearing for a bill that allowed energy companies to use private property for drilling without getting the landowners permission. In attendance were several lobbyists for the energy companies, and Lissa Lucas.

She signed up for a speaking slot and started listing committee Republicans and the donations they had taken from donors linked to the oil-and-gas industry. Midway into her speech, committee chairman Del. John Shott (R) interrupted her and had her forcibly removed from the meeting for making “personal comments.”

Since the incident at the meeting occurred, Lissa Lucas has received over $20,000 in campaign donations.

Was committee chairman Del. John Shott (R) justifiable in having Lissa Lucas removed from the meeting?

Should politicians be allowed to receive donations from donors linked to the oil-and-gas industry?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/02/12/she-was-naming-lawmakers-who-took-oil-and-gas-money-so-they-barred-her-from-the-public-hearing/?utm_term=.d55c9061bcf8

Pennsylvania’s Fight Over the Eastern Hellbender

by Matthew White

Last year Pennsylvania Senator Yaw of Williamsport advocated for the instatement of the eastern hellbender salamander as the state amphibian for Pennsylvania. This bill easily passed through senate, but has been contested in the house. The eastern hellbender is an evasive species to PA so some believe that it is not fit for the job of state amphibian. The eastern hellbender is a freshwater salamander that is very sensitive to the purity of the water it lives in. Some states have already put this salamander on their endangered species list because they have been dying due to unclean waterways. The main reason for the advocacy of this salamander is to cause awareness of the pollution in Pennsylvania’s waterways. Although being evasive, this amphibian has been found all over western PA waterway, but that has been cut in half because of pollution.

http://www.philly.com/philly/health/hellbender-snot-otter-pennsylvanias-official-amphibian-20171116.html

PA Legislature Dealing with Environmental Issues this Week

by Nicholas A. Dulepski

The PA General Assembly is making determinations on several state environmental policies this week. H.B 1237, sponsored by Rep. Dawn Keefer- R- York, allows the General Assembly to now either vote on an “economically significant” environmental regulation or simply do nothing, which would disallow the regulation’s enforcement (Hess, 2018). A house committee approved and amended the bill, along with similar bills, such as House Bill 209, a bill cosponsored by Keefer (Hess, 2018). H.B 209 establishes The Independent Office of the Repealer, whose sole purpose is to review both old and new environmental regulations and suggest to the GA or governor’s office that they be repealed (Hess, 2018). The committee is yet to act on H.B 1959 (Rep. Rothman- R) which would roll back state agency permit- issuing authority on hazardous waste, underground mining, safe drinking water, oil and gas, sedimentation and more by instead giving the authority to a third- party. The bill hopes to cut long wait times for permits from the DEP. Reading through the bill, Rothman defines a third- party as “any individual in the Commonwealth who possesses the requisite certifications and qualifications of an occupation relating to a permit administered by a state agency.”.

It’s hard to make sense of these bills especially after Duke University, in January of this year, released a report on damages to water sediments downstream of PA oil and gas sites. The report confirmed that these sediments were 650 times more radioactive than the control sediments (Lucas, 2018). I understand that some will argue restricting environmental regulations is necessary for good business, but do these laws put our health at risk?

https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2017/10/13/bill-would-overhaul-pennsylvanias-regulatory-process/

States Pick up Slack with Federal Enviro Cuts

by Remo Diventura

The Trump Administration’s budget cuts include reducing federal environmental protections by millions of dollars. As a result, state governments are filling the gaps, with 23 states (including PA) proposing a combined total of 112 new policies to limit exposure to toxic chemicals. This isn’t about emissions or pollution specifically, but about what one is calling “common sense chemical reform”. This includes banning some pesticides, paint removers, fire-retardants, plastic additives, and water regulations. The belief behind this is to help not only the environment by removing harmful chemicals, but with public health. Many of these regulations are aimed at fixing the overburdened healthcare system. In Pennsylvania specifically, two bills have been proposed. One bans the use of a certain chemical (bisphenol-A) in food and beverage containers. The other requires the Environmental Quality Board to adopt a limit on perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water.

What these regulations will do to either public health or the environment is not really known. But the fact this is panning out in the current presidential administration is interesting to see, especially with many of these states also vowing to continue with the Paris Agreement regardless.

http://www.ehn.org/states-toxic-chemicals-legislation-epa-2534500012.html